Arts preview: “Hijab” unveils Iranian fashion and culture

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From the August 1, 2013 edition

You are what you wear.

With that line of thinking ngrained in society, boutiques line the streets to sell you pieces that match your personality, and fashionistas, in Columbus and the world over, gobble them up in an attempt to make the outside match the inside.

But in Iran, it’s not that simple. That’s what Victoria Ahmadizadeh, of Iranian and Puerto Rican descent, set out to show in her recent Ohio Art League exhibition “Hijab.”

Originally not intending to create such an exhibition, let alone make it the subject of her first solo exhibition post-grad, the 2010 Tyler School of Art alum did just that after an intense stint of research into Iranian culture while in the planning stages of a first-ever visit to the country.

“I had to come to terms with the idea that I’d be obligated to cover with a veil,” Ahmadizadeh said, speaking of the hijab, a word that refers both to the headscarf that covers the neck, hair and sometimes the face, as well as the dress code existent in Iran. (For future reference, Ahmadizadeh notes: The chador, or the traditional Iranian female garment, is the full-body black veil that allows for the face to show. The burqa, common in Afghanistan, is the black garment that covers a woman’s entire body and face.)

“I got to thinking, ‘Well if your hair is covered and your body is covered, what does that leave to showcase your individuality?’” she said. “Anything flashy at all is considered immodest (in that culture). But younger women, in Iran and the Middle East, quietly rebel by wearing certain makeup, showing some hair, or choosing to paint their nails different colors.”

Several of the exhibition’s pieces exemplify these thoughts, from figurines dressed in flashy attire to brightly fashioned press-on nails, as well as other similarthemed artworks of different media.

These pieces are intended to remind patrons that Iranian culture, as well as that of the Middle East, is richer than what is shared by American media, Ahmadizadeh said. They’re also intended to share the understanding that both countries’ interplay with fashion goes beyond the surface.

“A lot of people think that fashion’s very superficial,” she said. “But I know I went through my self-discovery through fashion and trying on different styles. That’s why it’s hard for me to imagine covering my hair and having restrictions on what I could and couldn’t wear.”

This continuous movement between appreciation and critique of the Iranian fashion culture is not lost on Ahmadizadeh. In fact, she said it was one of the motivators behind the show.

“It’s a celebration of the culture but in some ways, it goes against it,” she said. “There’ a back-and-forth, and I’m really interested in that push and pull. That tension.”